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Riebeek boasts green champ
Sara Gopal. (use this photo on p.2)Photo: SUPPLIED

At the end of this month, Uitenhage’s own green champion will represent South Africa in the international sphere.

With her winning article: Pollution: A matter of life and death Sara Gopal (16), a Grade 11 learner at Riebeek College, became the national champion in the Young Reporters for the Environment (YRE) national competition, presented by the Wildlife and Environment Society of South Africa (WESSA).

She will now represent South Africa in the YRE international competition (15-18 age group) at the end of July.

Like a good investigative reporter, Sara went into the field to gain first hand know-ledge of pollution and the dangers it poses to humans.

She visited various municipal waste centres as well as illegal dumping sites across Nelson Mandela Bay. Her mother, Shirin Vawda, accompanied her.

After these “site inspections,” Sara realised that conservation and pollution are not prioritised by government. “This despite legislation in the Constitution of the Republic of South Africa, which states that everyone has the right to have the environment protected for the benefit of present and future generations.”

Sara is now extremely worried about the detrimental effects of pollution on the environment.

“It is my wish that government makes pollution and illegal dumping a priority by improving waste management and refuse collection.”

According to Sara, recycling bins should also be more accessible at parks, supermarkets and shopping centres.

What triggered Sara’s interest on pollution was the death of four children earlier this year, who consumed toxic substances at an illegal dumping site in Motherwell.

In her presentation she stated that “As shocking as their deaths were, sadly, it was not enough to bring about any permanent change. Coupled with the lack of basic infrastructure and municipal intervention, the problem (pollution) seems to be going from bad to worse.”

As a young reporter for the environment, Sara visited and photographed polluted streets, blocked stormwater and sewage drains, open fields and vacant land which are covered with discarded rubbish and construction rubble, medical waste and general household waste products.

“Dumped materials attract more dumping. The effects on the surrounding environment are widespread.”

According to Sara, impoverished communities need to be adequately educated and given incentives in order to motivate them to adhere to the reuse, reduce and recycle campaigns.

In her presentation she accredited the acclaimed Uitenhage Recycling Mula Swop-Shop, which was awarded PETCO’s coveted Public Campaign of the Year in 2018.

“During 2019, the Mula project removed 41 000 kg of plastic and 11 000 kg of cardboard from the community and brought considerable relief to thousands of people in impoverished communities.”

Unfortunately owing to COVID-19, this project had to come to a halt, resulting in the area regressing to a terrible polluted state.

Sara said, “Integrated cooperation among authorities and community groups is crucial to achieve the desired results. Environmental campaigns are worth nothing if we are unable to execute them and for that we need government intervention and community cooperation and support.

“Drastic steps must be implemented before it’s too late and we reach the point of no return.”

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